Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Are not all lifelong friendships...

...born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year after year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say "Here at last is the thing I was made for." We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all." - C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

So, I was just googling this quote - an absolute favorite of mine, by the way - to see what sort of results would come up. One of the first results was an excerpt from some guy's blog. He quoted just the first sentence, and then followed up with 'yeah, man, I just love those kinds of friendships!' (I paraphrase).

I was like DUDE. Lewis is not talking about friendship. He's talking about LONGING!!! And not just ANY longing - THE longing!!!! The one that we all experience, all of our lives - at least, Lewis believed that we did.

Isn't it strange? If this is something so very fundamental, something we all go through, and perpetually, why don't we ever hear about it?? Why haven't our artists been writing, painting, composing, and dancing about this constantly since the beginning of human civilization? Oh, of course little hints of it pop up just about everywhere; but it seems that our culture is just too emotionally prudish to discuss it explicitly, very often. Naturally, there's Lewis - it pervades everything he's ever written. As he details in Surprised by Joy, this inexplicable longing is what both defined his childhood, and ultimately led him to Christianity. There's also the mystics of the Catholic Church, of course. Read John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul - enough said. Read Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs for what it really means when the bride flies through the streets at night, searching for her Beloved. And, strangely enough, the most recent place where I have found an inkling of this is in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows – go figure; I'm not sure what the connection is. But here's my point: all of these sources are very few and far between.

Now, I've tried to broach this topic with others many times in the past. I've tried to express my own experiences of this divine longing (like Lewis, this is something I've had since before I can remember. It basically defines my life, my person, and my entire existence.). I always observe my own words fall heartbreakingly flat, but I don't stop trying. Nine times out of ten, what is the response? Shifty eyes and awkward silences. Yeah, I'm sure I deserve it if people think me a little bit insane. But the longer I keep going, the more I realize that maybe I'm not the insane one. Essentially, insanity is a failure to adhere to reality. This longing is very, very real.

This has got to be one of the biggest elephants in the room...in the history of the world. Except it's more than that. I believe that, simply because it is such a difficult subject to discuss, we've given up. And, with the ceasing of our efforts to express it, we've begun to forget it, too.

I believe that our culture is coming very close to "losing all".


  1. That longing...so very TOB...

    GREAT post!

  2. Genevieve, thank YOU for reading! <3

    bleusmon...do I know you?? Or are you just a visitor? :)

  3. Oh, and I'd actually have to disagree with you there. Lewis' theories on Sehnsucht are almost like the contrasting counterpart to JP II's teachings on human sexuality. The latter focuses on the goodness of the human body and how it reveals God; the former refers to the soul's longing for "it knows not what" - Lewis hit the nail on the head by saying that it's a longing for Heaven; Home - it's homesickness in the purest and most original sense. There's even this great passage in Surprised by Joy where Lewis explains that there had always been, for him, a very clear distinction between Longing and sexual desire. And frankly, I, personally, have never felt so out of place in my body and in this world as when I have experienced this longing.

    Not to demean Theology of the Body, at all. I love John Paul the Great's teachings - they're beautiful, and so truth-filled. However, I believe that the truth behind the existence of Sehnsucht rings even deeper. Look at it this way: TOB can only be relevant and enlightening to us because we are sexual beings. But even if we had somehow not been created as sexual beings, Heaven would still be our home, and we would still long for it.

    Something related to this that I think you might find interesting and informative, bleusmon - research the concept of "nostalgia". A little foretaste: when the term first originated, it referred to what appeared to be a medical affliction.